Health and Wellness: Power of Pets
About 95 percent of pet owners consider their furry friends to be family members, and about half will buy them a birthday or holiday present this year, according to a Harris Poll. But did you know these relationships also have positive effects on your physical and mental health? Read on for the myriad of ways pets help humans heal.
The Feeling is Mutual
“There have been studies [done proving that] the benefits are mutual, and the relationship is essential to the well-being of both the human and the animal,” says Wendy Goossen, CTR, director of cancer services at Marshall Medical Center. “Studies have shown that oxytocin levels are increased in dogs when they interact with their owner as opposed to strangers.”
Something that makes the human-animal relationship so easy is that it’s not complicated, says Jeremy Ernst, DO, psychiatrist at Marshall Medical Center. “It allows people to have nonjudgmental love,” he continues.
Let’s Get Physical
Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, a veterinarian at Goldorado Animal Hospital in Cameron Park, says dog owners, on average, tend to walk almost twice as much per week as non-dog owners, and are 54 percent more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical exercise.
Having a family pet will benefit the health of your kids, too. “In young families, according to a study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, children exposed to pets in their first year are less likely to suffer from allergies and eczema as adults,” Garlinghouse says.
Bonded for Life
According to Garlinghouse, “Studies have indicated that young adults with deep bonds to a pet feel more connected in relationships and to their communities, and are more likely to take on leadership roles than those without pets.”
No Judgement Zone
Garlinghouse says pets don’t care how you look, how much money you make, or what kind of car you drive—they’re just happy to be with you and to have your attention. “A good portion of these feelings of higher self-esteem probably stem from that. It’s hard not to feel better about yourself when your dog thinks you’re terrific just the way you are,” she says.
And it’s not just dogs that help our well-being. “A lot of these benefits come from caring for almost any pet,” Garlinghouse says. “In one study, stressed adults decreased their anxiety levels when they stroked a rabbit or a turtle but not when they handled a toy rabbit or turtle.”
In Sickness and in Health
Facility dogs Henry, Penny, Marty, Feather, and Glimmer are graduates of Canine Companions for Independence who, along with child life specialists at Sutter Children’s Center, help make life in the hospital a little less stressful by providing joy and comfort to pediatric patients and their families. [Studies show that] pain reduction is four times greater in children undergoing animal-assisted therapy compared to those relaxing for 15 minutes,” says Amy Medovoy, child life coordinator at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. “Patients feel less lonely, less depressed, and enjoy the change in routine. For inpatient adolescents, the presence of a dog on the unit improve outcomes by redefining the inpatient environment and providing unconditional acceptance.”
Forming an attachment to animals is a combination of both biological and social needs. “Those endorphins released when we have a positive interaction with an animal just makes you feel good,” Garlinghouse says. “No matter how rotten your day has been, no matter how judged or criticized you might feel from people around you, no matter how lonely or isolated you might be feeling, it’s a great feeling to come through the door and know your pets are always delighted to see you and think you’re absolutely wonderful.”
by Kourtney Jason
Title photo ©Tatyana Gladskih - stock.adobe.com.
First photo ©Nadezhda - stock.adobe.com.
Second photo © PETER KIM/fotolia.com.